Cardinal Raymond Leo Burke is being “exiled to Malta“; Blase Cupich, a “moderate,” will become Archbishop of Chicago in November; the Pope isn’t happy (or maybe he doesn’t care) about a new Ignatius Press book defending the Catholic doctrine of marriage from the theological machinations of Cardinal Walter Kasper; and the Synod on the Family, which many expect will make “modest changes to the annulment process” (thus rightly eliciting the incredulous smiles of the Eastern Orthodox), has been inopportunely scheduled to ruin postseason baseball. Are these not the darkest of times? Could things really get any worse? Is it not time to panic? The answer to all three overcharged queries is of course, “No.” That hasn’t stopped certain neo-Catholics from trying to paint the disappointment over these and other, lower level, events as proof that certain conservative and traditional Catholics are “nuts” to question the current direction of the Catholic Church. In fact, to raise almost any question over what has been transpiring as of late in Rome and other sectors of the Church is tantamount to rabid dissent and evidence of a crypto-Protestant (if not crypto-Lefebvrist) mentality.
Such is the (passing) nature of Catholicism at this particular point in its long and storied history. The Church is on the ropes, and there is a fear — legitimate or not — that any sign of discord within her ranks will be exploited by the Church’s enemies. Maybe, though that possibility doesn’t change the fact that matters are, to put it mildly, “suboptimal” at the moment and that silence is not the answer. Even Fr. John Zuhlsdorf, who has spent the last year selling the idea of harmony between Pope-Emeritus Benedict XVI and Pope Francis’s pontificates, has dropped the “Reading Francis Through Benedict” slogan off of his blog’s masthead. Things have changed, and not for the better. No, that doesn’t mean the Church will collapse under the weight of poor papal appointments or inopportune and unnecessary synods, but it does mean that we should be prepared for a return of the catechetical confusion, doctrinal distortions, and theological mischief that ran wild in the Church after the close of the Second Vatican Council.
Preparedness is good. There is nothing wrong with it. Yes, we should hope that things will get better, but true hope must be a reasonable hope, not a far-fetched desire such as Hans Urs von Balthasar and Fr. Robert Barron’s “hope” that all men will be Saved. (For more on this, see Michael Voris’s Massa Damnata episode.) Similarly, we must not hope that the progenitors and heirs of the “new theology” will save us. While it is commendable that Cardinal Gerhard Mueller, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, is on the frontlines defending the traditional doctrine of marriage, let us not forget that the “new theology” opened up the doors of the Church to all sorts of confusing, if not pernicious, ideas and theories which have only recently been called into question.
Not that it’s easy to do so. When Alyssa Pickstick wrote her outstanding takedown of Balthasar, Light in Darkness, she was subjected to petty bullying by none other than Fr. Edward Oakes in the pages of First Things. And don’t even think of questioning Henri de Lubac’s work, for everyone knows that natura pura is the invention of antichrist. As for the theology of Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI — the twin sentries of orthodoxy in the neo-Catholic imagination — , there is still a taboo in place when it comes to shining critical light in their direction. Thankfully, a few pioneering works, such as Fr. Johannes Dormann’s four-part Pope John Paul II’s Theological Journey to the Prayer Meeting at Assisi, are slowing us to have a fuller picture of what has been going on in the Church over the past half-century or so.
Again, now is not the time to panic. Despair is always off limits. We need to be ready for what is coming and not allow ourselves or our families to be misled. We must not lose the Faith, for in doing so we imperil our very souls. Hell may be empty, but let’s not find out firsthand.